The U.S. Commerce Department is moving to ban downloads of TikTok and WeChat within the United States from this Sunday (via Reuters).
The U.S. Commerce Department plans to issue an order today that will “deplatform” WeChat and TikTok by banning people in the United States from downloading the apps. The order will take effect from Sunday, September 20.
U.S. government officials speaking to Reuters said that the ban on downloads of TikTok could still be rescinded before it takes effect late on Sunday, providing that TikTok owner ByteDance can agree on a deal to sell its U.S. operations.
Commerce Department officials said they were taking the unprecedented step of banning the apps because of the risks posed by their data collection practices and Chinese ownership. ByteDance and WeChat-owner Tencent Holdings have repeatedly denied that U.S. data collection is used for spying.
“We have taken significant action to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
ByteDance has been in serious talks with U.S. cloud computing company Oracle for some time, and proposed an agreement to form a new company called “TikTok Global,” in order to address U.S. security concerns. ByteDance still requires the approval of President Donald Trump to acquiesce to a deal and prevent a ban, and there is doubt about whether an agreement will be reached.
All domestic app stores, including the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store, will be compelled to remove both apps on any platform “that can be reached from within the United States.” Other apps from ByteDance and Tencent, such as games, will continue to be available under this order.
The order will only ban the apps within the United States, and U.S. companies, such as Walmart and Starbucks, will still be able to conduct business using TikTok and WeChat outside of the U.S. as they currently do.
The Commerce Department also said that it will not seek to compel people in the United States to remove the apps or stop using them, but it will forbid further updates or new downloads. A Commerce official said “We are aiming at a top corporate level. We’re not going to go out after the individual users.”
The order will also bar “additional technical transactions,” “content delivery services,” “peering services,” and data hosting within the United States, meaning that the usability and functionality of the apps for those who already have them in the United States will degrade significantly. For TikTok, to give more time to secure a deal, the degradation in existing service will not take place until November 12.
It is unclear if the news from U.S. Commerce Department officials is intended to serve as a warning-shot to hasten a deal for TikTok with Oracle, or if the White House, dissatisfied with Oracle’s proposal, is truly seeking to ban TikTok outright. WeChat is not being considered for an acquisition deal and therefore cannot avoid the ban.
President Trump initially issued an executive order on August 6 that gave the Commerce Department 45 days to determine what apps posed a national security threat. This is why the ban comes into effect on Sunday. Today’s new order is set to be published in full at 8:45 a.m. EDT.
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